Petro-Canada Sour Gas Wells and Pipeline Progress (The Saga)
The Petro-Canada proposal hearing commenced on November 12, 2008. This proposal seeks to gain approval for the drilling of 11 new wells, plus a 56 Km pipeline along the front range west of Longview. If approved, this proposal has the potential to open up this pristine landscape to further oil and gas exploration and development. The Pekisko Group strongly opposes the approval of this project.
After the Christmas recess the hearings recommenced on January 20th, 2009. Then a relationship between people involved in the hearing, one of them an ERCB employee, was revealed. This caused the hearings to be postponed. After an investigation the hearing was resumed in March. The hearings were finally completed and the lawyers had time to finish and submit their final written arguments. The ERCB then has 90 days to render a decision.
Then Suncor merged with (took over) Petro-Canada. The merger was completed on August 1, 2009 and was successful judging by Suncor's quarterly financial results released on November 6, 2009.
Another wrinkle occurred in November 2009 when the ERCB halted all approvals of sour gas wells due to a decision by the Court of Appeal of Alberta in the case of Kelly v. Alberta (Energy Resources Conservation Board), 2009 ABCA 349. In this case the appellants challenged the ruling by the ERCB to deny them standing in a hearing to allow Grizzly Resources Ltd. to drill two sour gas wells near their property. This may be important in that it appears to challenge how the ERCB determines who has standing in sour gas applications based on simple distance from proposed wells and other sour gas facilities.
The list of parties that had standing during the hearing included:
Big Loop Cattle Company
Bar AD Ranches
Stoney Nakoda 1st Nations
Three Forks Cattle company
Indian Graves Campground
Blue Bronna Wilderness Camp
The Burke family
Stoney trail Ranch
Buffalo Head Ranch
Mt. Sentinel Ranch Ltd.
Rocking P Ranch
The Pekisko group
The Discretionary Participants included:
The Dayment Ranch
Blue Ridge Outfitters
Defenders of Wildlife Canada
Full Circle Adventures
the Priddis Millarville Residents Association
Alberta Wilderness Assoc.
Cartwright D Ranch
Leo D Puerzer
What is Sour Gas? This is natural gas (which is mostly methane) with a certain concentration of H2S, or Hydrogen Sulphide. According to U.S. government health statistics, concentrations greater than 500 parts per million (that's .05%) can cause you to lose consciousness and can even kill you. Children and the elderly may die after being exposed to lower concentrations. The gas in the pipeline will be close to 15% H2S. Read the CBC background story here.
Also, for more background on Hydrogen Sulphide, check out this Houston Chronicle web page.
In September of 2008, a particular question was included in Leger Marketing's Omni Alberta Study. The Survey showed that a large majority of people in Alberta agree that the government should put a moratorium on any further oil and gas development until the provincial government has finalized a land use framework to plan and balance future development for this sensitive region. The Land Use Framework (LUF) is currently forming the regulatory and planning structure to create land use plans for the defined six regions of Alberta. These plans are due late in 2009.
Click here for the survey results
Local Opposition Mounting
A coalition of groups is forming to oppose this application. They are emphasizing the importance of this area as a watershed and as one of the last tracts of native fescue grass in North America, not to speak of its value for recreation, hunting, wildlife habatitat, movie making and tourism. With water becoming ever more valuable to cities, towns, agriculture and industry in southern Alberta, the potential for damage to the foothills watershed by more industrial development is not work the risk.
The groups have issues a press release calling for a moratorium. Read the Press Release
This is our Ranching Heritage
The southern Alberta foothills are home to our ranching heritage and the genesis of the Calgary Stampede. Surveys have shown that the people of Alberta believe that this area should be protected in order to protect the watershed as well as its special history. Read more in this historical review.
The Results of another earler proposal
In 1994, Amoco Canada Petroleum wanted to put in a road and drill a sour gas well in the Whaleback. The ERCB found the application deficient and decided against granting them approval. Read excerpts from that ERCB decision here. We believe that the area in which Petro-Canada wants to put their pipeline under the current application is equally critical to wildlife habitat and watershed protection. This project should also not be approved.
Comments on the ERCB Decision
The ERCB decision included 15 conditions which purport to protect the environment and public safety. Yet in examining these conditions we get the impression that this decision is a complete capitulation to the 'develop anywhere, anytime, and with as few real restictions as possible' attitude of government.
Some people would suggest that the issue is about whether the Province and the Developer (Petro-Canada / Suncor) has the right to access subsurface resource. This is not the issue simply because Petro-Canada has alternate routes of getting the gas out of the drilling area without endangering a key watershed and the health and safety of people on the Eden Valley reserve. The real issues here are Water and Public Safety.
As to water, the landscape along which the pipeline and associated road will be built is a highly productive watershed producing clean water for southern Alberta. Together, the road and pipeline will run for some 56 Km through this headwaters and cross in excess of 70 water channels. At a time when people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of clean abundant water this decision is jeopardizing a key and valuable watershed. The science of the Southern Foothills Study says that the water quality and quantity flowing from these foothills is already on the decline. This pipeline development will simply speed up the decline, reducing the availability of clean water when communities and companies are already fighting over water permits. One is presented with the question of why our government prefers to plan by crisis.
Now, on the question of public safety, would any community in Calgary, Lethbridge, or any other town allow an oil and gas company (while reassuring them that their new sour gas pipeline is safe) to come into their community and set up a type of air raid siren and then enter into every one of their homes and build a 'safe room' in case of accident? We believe the implication is clear: You would need to train your children that when the siren goes off they must run quickly back home and get in the safe room until the all-clear is sounded. Let's get our head around this. Is this Canada or some failed state war zone? Do our children and families have a right to a feeling of security in their own homes and community? According to this ERCB decision, apparently not! If your children have nightmares will we happily pay for counselling?
Other aspects of the 15 conditions are equally disturbing. For example Condition 3 requires "Petro-Canada to investigate every odour complaint". Now, when you are talking about a sour gas pipeline carrying close to 15% deadly sour gas, wouldn't they be required by normal regulations and practice to investigate a sour gas odour complaint? The implication of this Condition is that under normal practice when a phone call is received by the emergency staff of an oil and gas company (and their are many oral stories about people phoning those 'emergency numbers' and getting no answer or a recorded message) in the middle of the night they have an option of deciding whether they should check it out or simply ignore it as a crank call. Rather than providing reassurance, this Condition could well make people more fearful.
We could go on, but instead we recommend that people read the ERCB decision for themselves and in particular the Conditions that start on page 113. This is not the type of decision that instills confidence in our regulatory institutions.